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1979 Revolution review

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In a post 9/11 world Muslims haven’t exactly had the most rounded portrayal in the west – though when it comes to video games they never had much positive representation before 9/11 either. At worst they’re sprinkled into shooters as enemy cannon fodder, and at best represented as innocent civilians you’re protecting from their homeland’s violent extremists. Civilians of these regions are seldom fleshed out beyond panicked extras, so when 1979 Revolution: Black Friday comes along and portrays a good guy who ends his prayers with “Allahu-Akbar”, it stands out.

Yet 1979’s inside look at the Iranian Revolution is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of what developer Ink Stories is doing here. It wants to use the medium of video games as a vessel to teach people about under-represented cultural histories, while remaining entertaining on a more basic level. Can a video game function as an educational tool without seeming like a pandering piece of “edutainment?” Can the medium’s interactivity add anything to a piece of history usually told via film documentaries, photographs and non-fiction prose? Can it hook players who enter the title with limited knowledge of its subject matter? Based on 1979 Revolution, the answer’s positive.

Developed by the Iranian born Navid Konsari – along with several other Iranian developers (some of whom cannot be named for the safety of themselves and their families) – 1979 Revolution’s game design doesn’t re-invent the wheel as it owes a lot to Telltale’s recent adventures. Much of the game is spent choosing between four dialogue options (one is usually to remain silent), examining objects, and engaging in scripted quick-time events. But that’s only its skeleton. As Life is Strange and Until Dawn have proven, this format can be pretty elastic.

In some ways, Ink Stories doesn’t need to stretch it all that far. As it turns out, many of the choices you make during a hostile cultural revolution are strikingly similar to those you make during a zombie apocalypse or the siege of various kingdoms in Westeros. Who do you side with? Who can you trust? Why can’t we all just get along?

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Navid Khonsari was erroneously branded a US spy by Iranian tabloids for making this game. He is unable to visit what family of his remains in Iran.

For those unfamiliar with the 1979 Iranian cultural revolution, here’s the gist: In 1970s Iran there was much civil unrest in regard to its brutish leader the Shah, after US powers put him in charge. Frequently accused of being a corrupt western puppet, the Shah outlawed freedom of speech, promoted torture, and was disliked by many otherwise conflicting groups. These various factions banded together and after a long, bloody uprising, the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeini was put in power. Unfortunately, Khomeini was equally tyrannical.

1979 Revolution follows the turning point in this takeover. Your character, Reza, is a young apolitical photographer. He wants to document the revolution, but not actually get involved. Having recently studied abroad in Germany, his priorities are that of many a young person: he wants to travel, hit the clubs, and hang out with his friends. Becoming a political prisoner would certainly interfere with those ambitions.

But then the s*** hits the fan. Though trying his best to keep his head down, Reza can’t help but charge into action when his activist friends are fired upon in a riot. Things get personal quickly and Reza gets swept up in the action of helping his more pro-active friends and family.

That’s already a captivating coming-of-age story on its own, but where 1979 Revolution really excels is at fleshing out the moral ambiguity of the situation. Khonsari and company have a more sympathetic view of what a lesser project would simplify as cardboard henchmen or stormtroopers. Ink Stories understands that many Iranian citizens went along with the ruling power out of fear. The supporting cast includes Reza’s idealistic, yet violent cousin Ali, his loyal cop brother Hossein and his peaceful pacifist friend Babak, who wants Iran to become an Islamic state. Looming over these factions that flow and weave through friends and family alike are Reza’s parents, who seem out of touch yet endured their own cultural revolution in their youth.